Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

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Flyers have big questions to address in offseason

Traditionally, the Flyers hold their “break-up” day after the playoffs in the morning or mid-afternoon.

Not this year.

For the first time in decades -- literally -- the Flyers will "break up" Friday night as players, coach Craig Berube and general manager Paul Holmgren will offer their final take on the regular season and playoffs.

The Flyers' lack of quality depth, especially on defense, was badly exposed by the New York Rangers during the playoffs. Because of that, more pressure will be placed on the organization to develop a young, puck-moving defensemen who can contribute big minutes.

Alas, that has been the Flyers’ biggest downfall on defense since the days of Chris Therien.

As usual, the Flyers are facing a number of issues heading into what now figures to be a long summer:

1. What becomes of Holmgren?
There’s a reason why Ron Hextall came back to the organization and a reason why you no longer hear Hexy’s name mentioned anywhere else in the NHL when a GM spot opens up, including Washington, recently. The assumption is that Hextall will replace Holmgren, sooner rather than later.

Holmgren is entering the final year of his contract, but a number of NHL sources believe he will step aside and return to amateur scouting. As one source noted, scouting is what Holmgren has always liked best. He misses the relationship with that side of hockey.

If Holmgren elects to fulfill his final year, the obvious question is how much influence will he have in any decision if Hextall is going to succeed him?

2. Steve Downie
Hands down, this was the worst trade Holmgren made this season. The Flyers gave Colorado their best penalty-killing forward in Max Talbot for Downie, who struggled after a concussion in his first game, save for a brief spurt of decent play. Toward the end of the season, Downie basically fell apart with at least one more concussion and poor play.

Downie is unrestricted and won’t be re-signed.

3. Vinny Lecavalier
The Flyers’ marquee free-agent acquisition last summer quickly became the club’s biggest nightly lineup obstacle when it became apparent Lecavalier did not fit into Berube's top three center spots.

Lecavalier is too prominent a player to be reduced for a fourth-line center role and his $4.5 million salary is dead weight on the Flyers' salary cap because they are overpaying for a guy who averaged less than 11 minutes a game. The fact Lecavalier has four more years on his contract makes his signing even worse. It’s not fair to him or the club, and his salary is near impossible to move.

Lecavalier played poorly much of the second half and is believed to have been suffering from a back injury. Regardless, his situation needs to be addressed.

Bottom line: The Flyers made a splash for a player who did not fit without removing one of their younger centers and now they are paying a harsh price.

4. The defense
Andrew MacDonald made the defense more mobile and helped Luke Schenn in his development as a partner. Yet MacDonald, like so many others on the blue line, had a poor playoff series against the Rangers.

The Flyers need more speed on the back end. Kimmo Timonen is no longer a No. 1. If Timonen decides to come back, he has to accept a far lesser role and cap-friendly salary.

The Flyers have tried in vain forever to get that stud D-man that makes all the difference. They had it briefly in Chris Pronger, but post-concussion syndrome ended his career.

The club says it will not pursue Shea Weber one final time this summer. Matt Niskanen is an interesting free agent on the Penguins who would help the Flyers. Regardless, the club needs to quickly develop its young talent -- Shayne Gostisbehere should get a long look in camp -- before the window closes on a team for which some of the younger players are ready to win now.

The lack of quality depth on defense when a player gets injured remains appalling and needs to be resolved.

All of these issues fall at the feet of Holmgren, who will be under pressure from club chairman Ed Snider to find reasonable solutions if he remains general manager next season.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.